Spartacist Canada No. 152

Spring 2007


Torture, Deportations, Secret Trials

Down With Racist “War on Terror”!

FEBRUARY 24—After seven years in prison without charge, Mohammad Mahjoub was ordered released on February 15 from the specially built “holding center” on the grounds of Millhaven Penitentiary near Kingston, Ontario known as “Guantánamo North.” Mahjoub, along with Mahmoud Jaballah and Hassan Almrei, was about to begin the fourth month of a hunger strike against the horrific conditions of their imprisonment under the “security certificate” provisions of Canada’s immigration act. Denied all rights, these men have been thrown into a nightmare world where they are tried in secret—but not charged—and may not even see the purported “evidence” against them.

The three “secret trial” detainees have been subjected to beatings and threats, as well as daily “head counts” and other humiliations by a staff of over 20 guards and administrators. They have also suffered serious health problems for which they have consistently been denied proper care. Despite being allowed only minimal contact with their families and supporters and constantly smeared in the bourgeois media, the three (along with Mohammed Harkat and Adil Charkaoui, who were released on bail earlier) have succeeded in rallying considerable public support behind their fight for freedom.

Government officials have unceasingly branded Mahjoub as a “threat to national security” and at one point attempted to deport him to Egypt where he faces torture and death. Like Harkat and Charkaoui, Mahjoub will now return to his family under house arrest. Fitted with electronic tracking devices and under permanent cop surveillance, he could be dragged back to prison for the slightest infraction of his draconian bail conditions.

On February 23, the Supreme Court struck down some aspects of the law on security certificates. The response of Public Safety minister Stockwell Day underscored that little will change for those targeted by the law: “I am pleased,” he said, “that the basic principle of security certificates has been maintained” (Toronto Star, 24 February). The detainees stay in jail and the onerous bail conditions for the others are unchanged, while the government has been given a year to reconfigure the law. We demand immediate freedom for those still in prison, restoration of full civil rights to those released and an end to the deadly threats of deportation they all face.

In the Toronto area, meanwhile, 17 young Muslims including teenagers await trial for a raft of “terrorism”-related charges under the repressive Anti-Terrorism Act enacted by the Chrétien Liberals after September 11, 2001. Concocted on the word of finks paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in an RCMP sting operation, some of these cases are already unravelling, and on February 23 charges against the youngest were stayed. We condemned the June 2006 police roundups and the media smears of Muslim youth in Canada as a “Jihad Generation” and the new “enemy within,” and continue to demand immediate freedom for those still in jail. Drop all the charges!

These cases represent only small cogs in the vast machinery of the U.S.-led “war on terror” whose tentacles reach around the world: from the bloody imperialist occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan to the secret prisons and torture chambers of Syria and Egypt; from police shoot-to-kill orders on the streets of London to “extraordinary renditions,” warrantless surveillance and “terrorist watch lists” in effect at airports and border crossings throughout North America. Supplementing all this is a constant stream of government lies, police frame-ups and media manipulation aimed at maintaining public fear at the level necessary to justify growing police surveillance and intrusion into the daily lives of everyone.

But the capitalist rulers also know that keeping public hysteria indefinitely at “code red” is no slam dunk. As the U.S. occupation of Iraq drags into its fifth year, few believe anything that comes from the mouths of Bush, Cheney & Co. In Canada, Ottawa’s concerted efforts to sell the public on participation in the military occupation of Afghanistan have found little traction. Each successive “terror” scare has met with greater scepticism and even outright ridicule from working people. This is a good thing, but throwing a wrench into this vast and growing machinery of state repression will require class struggle—for working people to push back against attacks on democratic rights and living standards.

As we have often noted, the “war on terror” is not a “war” at all, but a political pretext to drastically expand the repressive apparatus of the bourgeois state. The defense of the vulnerable Muslim minority—the target in the first instance of the bourgeoisie’s new arsenal of police-state measures—is therefore of vital interest to all working people. Russian Bolshevik leader V.I. Lenin explained that the core of the state, with its “special bodies” of organized violence—the police, courts, standing armies and prisons—is the apparatus of one class for repressing another. This is all the more important to emphasize in the advanced capitalist states, where the bourgeoisie typically conceals its naked class dictatorship behind elaborate parliamentary rituals and facades.

O’Connor Inquiry: Facelift on Racist “Anti-Terror” Campaign

If the growing scepticism and hostility toward the “war on terror” has a name, it is Maher Arar. On September 20, 2006, the federal parliament, amid cheers and applause, unanimously passed a motion apologizing to the Canadian computer engineer who has become an iconic figure internationally for his fight to defend his rights and those of others. Joining in this cynical ovation were the Liberals, who directly connived with Arar’s abductors and torturers, and Harper’s Conservatives, who had vilified him for months on end. Truly, as Rochefoucauld noted centuries ago, hypocrisy is the homage vice pays to virtue!

This outpouring was occasioned by the release of a 822-page “Report of the Events Relating to Maher Arar.” Signed by Ontario justice Dennis O’Connor, the report “reveals” what we and many others said long ago—Maher Arar was an innocent man. It lays out how CSIS and the RCMP’s sinister “Project A-O Canada” fingered Arar and his wife Dr. Monia Mazigh to U.S. officials as “Islamic Extremist individuals suspected of being linked to the Al Qaeda terrorist movement.” Even their young children were put on a “border-watch” list! It shows the steps leading to his abduction in New York by the FBI and his eventual “rendition” to nearly a year of gruesome torture in a Syrian prison as Ottawa stonewalled all efforts to free him. The report also reviews government efforts to cover its trail by further smearing Arar after his return to Canada.

In January 2007, after years of negotiations, the Canadian government finally issued a formal apology to Arar, and a settlement of $11.5 million. Welcome as the money must be, it cannot repair the damage done to this man. Arar himself told the media, “I wish… I could buy my life back.”

Black chattel slavery in Upper Canada, the anti-Chinese “head tax,” the internment of Japanese Canadians in World War II, the cold-blooded police murders of Native militant Dudley George and countless others: the Canadian ruling class and its forebears have committed crime after crime against the working people and oppressed. Periodically the bourgeois state “investigates” its own “excesses” in Royal Commissions or “independent inquiries.” The purpose of these charades is not to bring justice to those wronged, but to restore the authority of the capitalist state, pushing the idea that these are the “aberrant” acts of “rogue elements.” On the contrary: these are the normal workings of the ruling class and its agents.

Even in these terms, the O’Connor report is an exceptionally insolent whitewash of the RCMP and government criminals, who evidently counted on Arar coming home from Syria in a coffin. Far from naming a single guilty party in Arar’s abduction and torment, O’Connor’s report—in the face of massive proof to the contrary—declares that the whole thing was merely the result of a few mix-ups, poor training and failure to follow “proper procedures.” “There is no evidence,” he writes, “that Canadian officials participated or acquiesced in the American authorities’ decisions to detain Mr. Arar and remove him to Syria.” How grotesque! It was precisely “Canadian officials” who gave the U.S. the pretext to arrest Arar and deport him.

Moreover, O’Connor’s report repeatedly endorses the state’s spying on Arar. The RCMP had, he declares, “reasonable grounds to conduct surveillance” of a meeting between Arar and Abdullah Almalki, another innocent man jailed and tortured in Syria on the basis of RCMP/CSIS lies. O’Connor agrees that it was “reasonable for the Project to investigate” Arar, and that requesting a border lookout for him “was an appropriate investigative step.”

Responding to this blatant whitewash, even Alex Neve of the bourgeois-liberal Amnesty International pointed to the obvious: “targeted phone calls or information-sharing, giving a nudge, a nod, a wink, when it was known someone was going to be crossing international borders with the hope and expectation they would be arrested” amount to “Canada’s own version of extraordinary rendition” (Toronto Star, 13 December 2006). Arar was one of at least four men jailed and tortured in Syria on the strength of Canadian disinformation.

O’Connor’s report presented few difficulties to the bourgeoisie and its media. The Globe and Mail’s John Ibbitson noted with pleasure that the report “will not satisfy conspiracy theorists who believe our security services actively colluded to have a Canadian citizen sent to Syria to be tortured” (19 September 2006). Former solicitor-general Wayne Easter, who was in charge of the RCMP while Arar rotted in a Syrian dungeon, smirked to reporters: “I found the report really not all that critical.” O’Connor, a long-time bourgeois state functionary, delivered what his paymasters ordered: an expert “legal” endorsement of Canada’s secret “war on terror” apparatus.

The NDP social democrats called on the government to “respond appropriately…to the Commission’s detailed recommendations” and issue an immediate apology and compensation to Arar and his family as the best way “to close this ugly chapter in Canadian history.” Well, they’ve done that. But contrary to the NDP, this is not just a blemish on an otherwise clean historical record. The persecution of Arar fully reflects the “values” of this racist capitalist society. And if the NDP defended Arar, they criminally hailed the terror sting against the 18 Muslims in Toronto last year. Layton declared: “We join with all Canadians in saluting the efforts and cooperation of our law enforcement and intelligence gathering agencies” (press release, 5 June 2006). Out of power, the NDP is at pains to demonstrate its fitness to run the capitalist state; and when they do form governments, from B.C. to Ontario, they are as ruthless in administering racist capitalist austerity as their bourgeois counterparts. What they are emphatically not fit for is leadership of the working class.

Like the NDP, the reformists of the International Socialists (I.S.) ignore O’Connor’s explicit exoneration of the cops and spy services for their crimes against Arar. Socialist Worker, the I.S. newspaper, breathlessly and falsely declares the report “a damning indictment of the criminal role of the RCMP” (7 October 2006). With not one criticism of O’Connor’s report, the I.S. itself covers for state lies and repression.

Why would self-described “socialists” hail a snowjob like this—not to mention buying into the whole charade of such “independent inquiries” in the first place? In contrast to the Leninist view of the state, reformists like the I.S. share the premise of the NDP that the “democratic” state is not a mask for the dictatorship of capital, but a neutral body which answers not to the capitalists but to “the public.” The I.S. position runs like this: with enough mass pressure, “our government” must change its policies—presumably to serve the interests of the workers, the poor and oppressed as opposed to those of capital. Devotion to this fiction is what leads the I.S. to alibi capitalist class “justice,” of which atrocities like the racist “war on terror” are the inevitable product.

The O’Neill Affair: Anatomy of a State Smear Job

The O’Connor commission, it should be recalled, was launched not because of the crimes against Arar, but because of publicity around a bungled January 2004 raid the RCMP conducted on the home of Ottawa journalist Juliet O’Neill. After Monia Mazigh’s heroic campaign had finally secured Arar’s return to Canada, O’Neill was one of many journalists who willingly helped security officials continue to smear Arar as a “dangerous terrorist.” A vicious screed by O’Neill in the Ottawa Citizen (8 November 2003) retailed lying information against Arar from a leaked “intelligence dossier.”

O’Neill’s article was extremely damaging to Arar. At the time, we nailed her and the other bourgeois media flacks who had “for the most part been loyal propagandists for the state ‘war on terrorism’” (SC No. 140, Spring 2004). We also rightly opposed wielding the sinister Security of Information Act—another repressive law enacted after September 11. However, we wrongly put the raid on O’Neill on a par with the rulers’ “war on terror” outrages when we wrote: “This raid, like all the recent frame-ups, Star Chamber hearings and police-state disappearances of immigrants of Arab and Muslim background, was meant to intimidate and silence anyone who might question the government.” This was not a journalist protecting a source in the service of championing the innocent or exposing government misdeeds, but the opposite. Like New York Times journalist Judith Miller, who retailed the Bush administration’s lies about Iraq’s supposed “weapons of mass destruction” that served as the pretext for the colonial war of occupation of Iraq, O’Neill was a willing mouthpiece for government disinformation.

As Marxists, we look at all issues, including questions of democratic rights, from a proletarian class standpoint—that is, the interests of the working class in furthering the struggle for socialist revolution. To be sure, raids on a journalist have a chilling effect on free speech, but this is not the central issue here. O’Neill’s right to not divulge her sources was subordinate to the right of the working class and oppressed, especially Maher Arar himself, to know exactly how the government orchestrated this witchhunt.

The “War on Terror” and the Working Class

Between the gnawing worry that you could be next and the poisonous “divide and rule” racism targeting vulnerable minorities, the bourgeoisie’s “war on terror” aims at getting workers and the oppressed to identify their interests with those of the ruling class. “Anti-terrorist” witchhunts; anti-science, anti-sex religious backwardness; deteriorating education, health care and pensions: intimidated and regimented across the board, working people are supposed to simply roll over and submit to unbridled capitalist exploitation.

The anti-terrorism laws are so sweeping as to encompass anyone whose political views run afoul of the ruling class. If Muslims are on the frontline, the ultimate target of the ramped-up “national security” arsenal is the multiethnic working class. When the Anti-Terrorism Act was introduced in 2001, the Canadian Auto Workers union protested that its definitions “could be used to apply to many trade union activities.” The capitalists would love to be able to brand any and all workers struggles as “terrorist.” These laws are not fundamentally about actions or alleged crimes. They are political laws meant to buttress the rule of the capitalist class and provide a way to repress and silence those who they cannot charge with a single demonstrable criminal act. This in itself poses a direct threat to the left and labour movement. Thus, among the organizations now banned are the Communist Party of the Philippines and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine. Meanwhile, sections of organized labour, such as waterfront and airport workers, are being subjected to ever more intrusive scrutiny in the name of the anti-terror hysteria.

The working class, from whose toil comes the capitalists’ profits, is the one force with both the material interest and organized social power to throw back this “war on terror” and challenge capitalist rule. In October 1917 in Russia, the working class, led by Lenin’s and Trotsky’s Bolshevik Party, smashed tsarist/capitalist rule with its anti-Semitic Black Hundred terrorists, Okhrana secret police and bloody anti-worker repression. Today’s unbridled militarism and one-sided attacks on workers and minorities were not created by “a new post-9/11 reality” but by the unipolar world of rampant capitalist imperialism that issued from the destruction of the former Soviet Union in 1991-92. The capitalists declare “Communism is dead,” but what they really mean is “October 1917, never again!”

Our aim, as communists, is to fight for new October Revolutions. We have actively opposed every racist, anti-democratic outrage perpetrated by the bourgeoisie in the name of the “war on terror,” and we urgently seek to mobilize workers in this struggle, because it is in their immediate and direct interests to do so. This state, whatever its “democratic” trappings, is not “our state” but that of the class enemy, which needs to be smashed by proletarian revolution. We fight for a revolutionary party of the multiethnic working class, which alone has the means and interest to overthrow the dictatorship of capital and lay the foundations of a new society based on the simple principle that those who labour must rule.